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RFID Is Not a Dirty Word

Salespeople who avoid talking about RFID are hurting themselves now—and the industry in the long term.
By Mark Roberti
Oct 12, 2009My recent Editor's Note criticizing the RFID industry for not doing more to promote the technology's benefits in general, instead of relentlessly promoting one type of radio frequency identification over another, prompted a few e-mails (see Selling RFID Short). One reader agreed with everything I said, but two marketing professionals told me their salespeople don't want them to mention RFID. "They think it's a dirty word," one wrote.

There are reasons why RFID has a bad reputation among some businesspeople. First, some vendors have oversold their products. Talk to end users, and they'll tell you vendors promise their products will do everything they need it to do—but when push comes to shove, the vendors can't deliver. This isn't unusual with any new technology. It's something that reputable companies have to fight against, by promising only what they can actually deliver, and then delivering what they promise.

Another reason RFID is perceived badly by some is that the technology became associated with the cost of complying with tagging requirements. Wal-Mart, to its credit, has been trying to quantify the benefits to suppliers, in the hope that this will encourage them to tag voluntarily.

I think it's also true that some businesspeople want to believe anything negative about RFID, because they don't want to change the way they do things. This is also common with new technologies. I remember a fellow writer telling me, in the mid-1980s, that he would never use a personal computer to write articles, because he needed to "feel the typewriter keys" to be creative. Needless to say, he hasn't used a typewriter since about 1987. I also remember business executives saying the Internet was a thing for teenagers, and that no one would come home from work and shop online.

Salespeople say they need to discuss traceability and visibility, rather than RFID. That seems difficult to do. RFID Journal focuses heavily on how the technology is used, rather than simply how it works. But you can't talk about benefits without explaining how they can be achieved. Ironically, most vendor presentations I've seen don't focus on the benefits customers can achieve. Rather, they dwell endlessly on how their company's technology offers greater read range or location precision than that of their competitors. I've often thought that these people don't understand their customers. End users don't want the "best" technology—they want the most cost-effective solution that will get the job done.

The fact that some salespeople get pushback when they mention RFID reinforces my point that we, as an industry, have not done an effective job of selling the technology's overall value. Many still believe RFID is expensive, unreliable and unable to deliver much value. Clearly, however, a large portion of the 1 million or so people who have visited the RFID Journal site this year know that there are many different kinds of RFID systems; that when you choose the right technology and design the system properly, the technology is reliable; that RFID can be a cost-effective way to collect information; and that the technology can deliver a return on investment.

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